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|Rating:||3.5 out of 5|
Centipede was one of the games I'd occasionally play in the arcades. I was drawn to it because of Centipede's unique arcade controls - a trackball and a button. My skills were scarce so I often enjoyed it more as a spectator. However, having a copy at home was right up my alley and I figured I could become an expert bug zapper in the comfort of home with my Atari 2600.
You'd think the controls would transfer over nicely. Both the Arcade game and 2600 joystick had a single button- just replace the trackball with a joystick and you're home free, right? Well, this is a game (like Missile Command) that would benefit greatly from the 2600 Trackball Controller - which I did not own. Back then, I doubt I even knew it existed. After a few plays the joystick seems to do the job, but with less precision than the familiar arcade trackball.
Once upon a time... a colony of good elves lived happy lives in the Enchanted Forest until their mushroom garden became infested by a large centipede,spiders, scorpions and fleas. These creatures were poisoning the mushrooms. An elf named Oliver discovered an unusual stick in the garden that seemed to ward off (or kill) the various pests. Not only that, his magical stick changed the mushrooms back into... I don't know - salable produce? Anyway... Oliver's new job was to ward off the vile insects from the colony's mushroom garden.
This fascinating tale translates into the 1-player Atari 2600 conversion of Centipede. You begin the game with 3 magic wands (lives) represented by a large block at the bottom of the screen. The smaller blocks are mushrooms and the rounder moving blocks is the centipede. Blocks with varying legs are the remaining pests infecting the mushroom garden. All this talk of "blocks" may cause you to thing the graphics are substandard. They are!
When the startup screen appears, you'll see a a multicolored centipede dangling from the top of the screen, swinging back and forth above an animated Atari logo. Stop and take in the beauty while marveling at this screen. It is like no other startup screen on the memory-sparse 2600. Once you start the game, you'll see a stark drop in quality - the big blocks return!
Once you get over the newfound blockiness of Centipede game play you'll begin to smile. You'll realize that, like other crappy looking 2600 arcade conversions, the game play is quite good and produces a really good experience. You get an extra life every 10,000 points for a maximum of 7 wands. If you get tagged by a pest or the centipede the game stops and tallies your mushrooms for bonus points. The game resumes until you defeat the centipede at which point you can move on to new levels.
The Difficulty Switches are not used in Centipede and have no effect on game play. As for variations, this single-player game has only 2 variations - Easy and Standard play. The severed teddy bear head has been a popular convention to denote a children's version to help the tikes become gamers to contend with. The Easy version you don't lose a life when spiders of fleas tag you and the centipede never appears with a detached head.
If you've ever had an actual centipede wriggle across your hand you may wonder about the video game similarities of this odd creature. Real ones have one pair of legs per body segment and always have an odd number of pairs. They can also survive as two when cut in half. Atari centipedes follow the same "splitting" feature and when hit will split into 2 centipedes- however, Atari centipedes are legless.
There are 8 waves of centipedes. In wave 1 the centipede is composed of a head attached to 8 body parts. Wave 2 features a head attached to 7 body parts and 1 detached head. Wave 3 = 6 body segments and 2 detached heads. This continues to Wave 8 which consists of 9 independently moving heads. Until your score reaches 40,000 you must eradicate each centipede twice. Speaking of scores- once you become a master exterminator and your score nears 100,000, the score will roll back to zero at 999,999. If you se the severed teddy bear head (denoting Easy mode) your maximum score is 99,999.
Mushrooms cause centipedes to drop a level and reverse direction when they collide. Much like Space Invaders, centipedes can come at you with alarming speed depending on the placement of mushrooms and your ability to eliminate them. It takes 3 consecutive shots to eliminate one mushroom. Scorpions create poisoned mushrooms (white blocks) which cause the centipede to plunge straight at you when they touch them. Poisoned mushrooms revert to normal mushrooms every time you lose a life (aka: losing a wand).
If you leave 5 mushrooms on the lower 1/3 of the screen Fleas will stay away. After scoring 120,000 points leave 10 mushrooms on the lower 1/3 of the screen to continue avoiding Fleas. Each pest has a different sound so you can use audio clues to figure out what sort of pest has you in it's sites.
If the graphics didn't suck so much I'd have given Centipede a higher rating, but I was never truly wild about this game so that effected its rating as well. See how subjective this shit can be? Overall, Centipede is a fun fast-paced game that grows on me the more I play it. go for it - get buggy!